Schneiderman Says Time Has Come To Trash PDD Law

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 By Stephen J. Kotz

The term PDD has become something of a four-letter word among certain circles in Southampton Town, and now Supervisor Jay Schneiderman says he wants to excise it from the town code.

The letters stand for Planned Development District, which over the years has become a highly controversial planning tool that allows the town board to circumvent the normal process to change zoning to allow special projects provided they include a community benefit that could not otherwise be obtained through current zoning. But to many in town, PDDs have simply resulted in projects that provide giveaways to developers while paying dubious dividends for the community at large.

In Bridgehampton, the proposed Bridgehampton Gateway mixed-use development PDD on the west side of the hamlet was killed last year after community members complained about everything from its proposal to include affordable housing to its potential environmental impact on nearby Kellis Pond.

In East Quogue, the Hills, a PDD that calls for the construction of 118 houses and a private golf course, has drawn vehement opposition from residents who have, among other things, cited concerns it will lead to groundwater contamination.

When Mr. Schneiderman, an Independence Party member cross-endorsed by the Democrats, was elected in 2015, he joined his Democratic colleagues on the board in calling for a year-long moratorium on PDDs.

This week, after a committee spent much of the past year searching for ways to fix the law, Mr. Schneiderman said the time had come to simply pull the plug on it.

“It can’t be salvaged in a single law,” he said on Wednesday. “The PDD is simply too open-ended. Basically, any piece of land can be anything any developer envisions, and that’s not the way planning is supposed to operate.”

Mr. Schneiderman said town officials sought ways to make the community benefit component of the law “intrinsic to the zone change itself,” such as providing for an assisted-living facility, medical center, or workforce housing, and not simply “a package of goodies for the community.”

It is time, he said, for the town to revisit its comprehensive plan, which was last updated in 1999. “We’re working off a plan that was first set in motion 25 years ago,” he said. “We’ve got to take a fresh look.”

One problem, he said, is that the PDD law was adopted as a way to find sites for uses that may not even be mentioned in the current code. “We have to figure out what types of things we need and then create pathways for those things,” he said.

“Once we decide that, they ought to go to the planning board, not the town board,” he continued. “The town board is a political body and you don’t want those decisions politicized.”

Councilman John Bouvier, a Democrat who raised questions about the value of the PDD law when he ran for office in 2015, said while the law had the “laudable intent of providing for things that are needed but not allowed otherwise,” it has been used as too much of a catch-all and proven to be too problematic.

“Any legislation that creates this kind of divisiveness is not hitting the mark,” he said.

Mr. Bouvier, while acknowledging that updating the comprehensive plan would be costly and time consuming, he agreed with the supervisor that the time has come to revisit the document.

The town board will hold a special meeting at noon on Thursday, June 1, to consider extending the moratorium another three months. That step is necessary, Mr. Schneiderman said, to make sure no applications slip between the cracks before the town is able to repeal the PDD law. A hearing on the proposal to repeal the law will be held on June 13.

Councilwoman Christine Scalera, a Republican, said the supervisor had kept her and fellow Councilman Stan Glinka “in the dark” about his intentions. “He said he was working on something to repeal and replace, but I haven’t seen anything,” she said.

Ms. Scalera said she looked forward to hearing the public speak at the public hearing next month and would base her vote on whether or not the law proves to be “something the public ultimately does not want.”

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